From using a tripod and using water reflections to knowing the area and being patient, these are useful tips for catching stunning landscape photographs
Britain is full of amazing landscapes, and this inspires many photographers to try capturing them in an enduring image. The beauty of landscape photography is that it’s open to anyone, and very little specialist equipment is needed. Landscapes don’t move quickly or change direction suddenly like birds can, you don’t need special permissions and passes like sports photographers, and you don’t need to pay the model.
"Going out for a day’s landscape photography can take you along magnificent hill paths, stunning beaches or exploring the footpaths near your home"
It’s also extremely enjoyable. Going out for a day’s landscape photography can be all the excuse you need to walk for miles along magnificent hill paths, visit stunning beaches, or explore the footpaths near your home. And while you’re doing that, here are some tips for you to bear in mind.
You don’t need a wide-angle lens
Though it can help. There's no need to invest in an expensive ultra-wide-angle lens for your DSLR or mirrorless camera just for landscape photography. Often, the things we want to photograph in landscapes are far away, and the ultra-wide lens just makes them smaller, so interesting features end up sandwiched between a wide expanse of bland foreground and a dull sky. By using a standard lens, or even a short telephoto as found in many kit zooms or even on smartphones, you can draw the eye to more interesting parts of the countryside.
What wide-angle lenses are good for is getting really close to something that interests you, and getting it all in frame with plenty of context from its surroundings too.
Try a tripod
Having some support for your camera is important if detail matters or you’re using filters. Movement from both the camera and subject can blur or soften your image, so if you’re seeking pin-sharp detail a tripod can help. Filters, often used with interchangeable-lens cameras to enhance colours or precisely control exposure, can extend exposure times, so a bit of three-legged support can help to reduce camera shake here too.
"Movement from both the camera and subject can blur or soften your image, so if you’re seeking pin-sharp detail a tripod can help"
Keeping shutter speeds high is the only way to prevent movement of the subject from being caught in the frame, however, so if the wind is blowing the trees about too much, consider coming back another day.
Get to know the area
While it’s perfectly possible to get excellent landscape photos from popular pathways and viewpoints, it’s worth exploring an area thoroughly to discover views that aren’t commonly photographed, or angles on recognisable landmarks that haven’t been seen before. If you can, scouting in advance, perhaps on a day when the weather conditions aren’t perfect, can save time later, as you’ll be able to go straight to the chosen position with your camera.
Reflect on water
Long exposure photos of water, in which the motion of the stream or waterfall becomes a blur, add a sense of motion to a still image and can be extremely eye-catching. A tripod is essential for these images, as you’ll want to raise your shutter speed to several seconds in order to capture the flow by stopping down the aperture or using a neutral density filter to reduce the amount of light reaching the sensor.
Water has other uses too, as it can harbour reflections that make for a striking image. You can also exploit its clarity, using a polarising filter to cut through the reflections, perhaps to contrast the beauty of a rocky lake bed with the surrounding trees.
Depth of field
To keep your photos sharp from front to back, you’ll want to maximise the depth of field in them. Generally, the wider your lens aperture, the shallower the zone of sharp focus, so stopping your lens down to f/8 or smaller will achieve greater depth.
"The wider your lens aperture, the shallower the zone of sharp focus, so stopping your lens down to f/8 or smaller will achieve greater depth"
This means using your DSLR or mirrorless camera in aperture priority or manual mode, as in others the camera’s systems will set the aperture value. Depth of field is a tricky thing to predict, however, as it varies with lens focal length and the distance to your subject as well as aperture, so it can be worth taking several shots with different settings, and using the screen on the back of your digital camera to discover which is best.
Smartphone photographers may not have access to their camera’s aperture, depending on the camera app they’re using, but with small sensors and tiny lenses phone photos tend to have deep depth of field anyway, which is why phones’ portrait modes use software to blur backgrounds.
Look for interesting lines in the landscape, perhaps some symmetry between features, or foreground objects that draw the eye. The rule of thirds, which splits the image up using a grid on which you place important parts of the image (and can be displayed on the screens or even in the viewfinders of most digital cameras) is a good place to start with composition.
The greatest landscape photographs don’t only capture a beautiful piece of the natural world, but the light falling upon it. Knowing when a place looks its best is essential knowledge for landscape photography, and if you arrive early be prepared to wait around until the light is exactly right. It’s better to do this than to arrive late and miss the shot.
Reader's Digest Photo Competition 2023: Beautiful Britain
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